Aug 19, 2010
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
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This is an article about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. For general information on sutras, see Sutra. For a list of Hindu sutras, see List of sutras.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a Hindu scripture and foundational text of Yoga. It forms part of the corpus of Sutra literature dating to India's Mauryan period.
In Hindu philosophy, Yoga (also Raja Yoga to distinguish it from later schools) is the name of one of the six orthodox philosophical schools. Though brief, the Yoga Sutras are an enormously influential work on yoga philosophy and practice, held by principal proponents of yoga such as B.K.S. Iyengar as being of principal importance:
Patañjali fills each sutra with his experiential intelligence, stretching it like a thread (sūtra), and weaving it into a garland of pearls of wisdom to flavour and savour by those who love and live in yoga....
"The Yoga-sutras acknowledge the Personality of Godhead in an oblique way, but only as a helper whom the advancing yogi can utilize. Isvara-pranidhanad va: "Devotional meditation on God is yet another means of achieving concentration." (Yoga-sutra 1.23) In contrast, Badarayana Vedavyasa's philosophy of Vedanta emphasizes devotional service not only as the primary means to liberation but also as identical with liberation itself. A-prayanat tatrapi hi drstam: "Worship of the Lord continues up to the point of liberation, and indeed goes on in the liberated state also, as the Vedas reveal." (Vedanta-sutra 4.1.12)"
Compilation and dating
Radhakrishnan and Moore attribute the text to Patanjali, dating it as 2nd century BCE. Scholars such as S.N. Dasgupta, claim this is the same Patanjali who authored the Mahabhasya, a treatise on Sanskrit grammar.
Indologist Axel Michaels disagrees that the work was written by Patanjali, characterizing it instead as a collection of fragments and traditions of texts stemming from the second or third century. Gavin Flood cites a wider period of uncertainty for the composition, between 100 BCE and 500 CE.
Philosophical roots and influences
The Sutras are built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy and also exhibit the influence of Upanishadic, Buddhist and Jain thought. Karel Werner writes that "Patanjali's system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of Buddhist formulations from the Pāli Canon and even more so from the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma and from Sautrāntika." Robert Thurman writes that Patanjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox. The five yamas or the constraints of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali bear an uncanny resemblance to the five major vows of Jainism, indicating influence of Jainism. This mutual influence between the Yoga philosophy and Jainism is admitted by the author Vivian Worthington who writes: "Yoga fully acknowledges its debt to Jainism, and Jainism reciprocates by making the practice of yoga part and parcel of life."  Christopher Chappel also notes that three teachings closely associated with Jainism appear in Yoga: the doctrine of karma described as colourful in both traditions (see concept of lesya); the telos of isolation (kevala in Jainism and Kaivalyam in Yoga); and the practice of non-violence (ahimsa). He also notes that the entire list of five yamas (II:30) is identical with the ethical precepts (Mahavratas) taught by Mahavira who predated Patanjali by a few centuries.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali prescribes adherence to eight "limbs" or steps (the sum of which constitute "Ashtanga Yoga", the title of the second chapter) to quiet one's mind and achieve kaivalya. The Yoga Sutras form the theoretical and philosophical basis of Raja Yoga, and are considered to be the most organized and complete definition of that discipline. The division into the Eight Limbs (Sanskrit Ashtanga) of Yoga is reminiscent of Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path; inclusion of Brahmaviharas (Yoga Sutra 1:33) also shows Buddhism's influence on parts of the Sutras.
The samadhi techniques are identical to the jhanas found in the Pali Canon. In Vyasa's commentary to the Yogasutras, (Yogabhashya) and Vacaspati Misra's subcommentary it is openly admitted that the samadhi techniques are directly borrowed from the Buddhists (Jhana) with just the inclusion of the mystical and divine interpretations of mental absorption.
The Sutras not only provide yoga with a thorough and consistent philosophical basis, they also clarify many important esoteric concepts which are common to all traditions of Indian thought, such as karma.
Although Patanjali's work does not cover the many types of Yogic practices that have become prevalent, its succinct form and availability caused it to be pressed into service by a variety of schools of Yogic thought.
The Sutras, with commentaries, have been published by a number of successful teachers of Yoga, as well as by academicians seeking to clarify issues of textual variation. There are also other versions from a variety of sources available on the Internet. The many versions display a wide variation, particularly in translation. The text has not been submitted in its entirety to any rigorous textual analysis, and the contextual meaning of many of the Sanskrit words and phrases remains a matter of some dispute.
Patanjali divided his Yoga Sutras into 4 chapters or books (Sanskrit pada), containing in all 196 aphorisms, divided as follows:
Samadhi Pada (51 sutras)
Samadhi refers to a blissful state where the yogi is absorbed into the One. The author describes yoga and then the nature and the means to attaining samādhi. This chapter contains the famous definitional verse: "Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ" ("Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications").
Sadhana Pada (55 sutras)
Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for "practice" or "discipline". Here the author outlines two forms of Yoga: Kriya Yoga (Action Yoga) and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eightlimbed Yoga).
Kriya yoga, sometimes called Karma Yoga, is also expounded in Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna is encouraged by Krishna to act without attachment to the results or fruit of action and activity. It is the yoga of selfless action and service.
Ashtanga Yoga describes the eight limbs that together constitute Raja Yoga.
Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras)
Vibhuti is the Sanskrit word for "power" or "manifestation". 'Supra-normal powers' (Sanskrit: siddhi) are acquired by the practice of yoga. The temptation of these powers should be avoided and the attention should be fixed only on liberation.
Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras)
Kaivalya literally means "isolation", but as used in the Sutras stands for emancipation, liberation and used interchangeably with moksha (liberation), which is the goal of Yoga. The Kaivalya Pada describes the nature of liberation and the reality of the transcendental self.
The eight limbs (ashtanga) of Raja Yoga
The eight "limbs" or steps prescribed in the second pada of the Yoga Sutras are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Ashtanga yoga consists of the following steps: The first five are called external aids to Yoga (bahiranga sadhana)
Yama refers to the five abstentions. These are the same as the five vows of Jainism.
Ahimsa: non-violence, inflicting no injury or harm to others or even to one's ownself, it goes as far as nonviolence in thought, word and deed.
Satya: truth in word & thought.
Asteya: non-covetousness, to the extent that one should not even desire something that is not his own.
Brahmacharya: abstain from sexual intercourse; celibacy in case of unmarried people and monogamy in case of married people. Even this to the extent that one should not possess any sexual thoughts towards any other man or woman except one's own spouse. It's common to associate Brahmacharya with celibacy.
Niyama refers to the five observances
Shaucha: cleanliness of body & mind.
Santosha: satisfaction; satisfied with what one has.
Tapas: austerity and associated observances for body discipline & thereby mental control.
Svadhyaya: study of the Vedic scriptures to know about God and the soul, which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within,
Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to (or worship of) God.
Asana: Discipline of the body: rules and postures to keep it disease-free and for preserving vital energy. Correct postures are a physical aid to meditation, for they control the limbs and nervous system and prevent them from producing disturbances.
Pranayama: control of breath. Beneficial to health, steadies the body and is highly conducive to the concentration of the mind.
Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses from their external objects.
The last three levels are called internal aids to Yoga (antaranga sadhana)
Dharana: concentration of the citta upon a physical object, such as a flame of a lamp, the mid point of the eyebrows, or the image of a deity.
Dhyana: steadfast meditation. Undisturbed flow of thought around the object of meditation (pratyayaikatanata). The act of meditation and the object of meditation remain distinct and separate.
Samadhi: oneness with the object of meditation. There is no distinction between act of meditation and the object of meditation. Samadhi is of two kinds:
Samprajnata Samadhi conscious samadhi. The mind remains concentrated (ekagra) on the object of meditation, therefore the consciousness of the object of meditation persists. Mental modifications arise only in respect of this object of meditation.
This state is of four kinds:
Savitarka: the Citta is concentrated upon a gross object of meditation such as a flame of a lamp, the tip of the nose, or the image of a deity.
Savichara: the Citta is concentrated upon a subtle object of meditation , such as the tanmatras
Sananda: the Citta is concentrated upon a still subtler object of meditation, like the senses.
Sasmita: the Citta is concentrated upon the ego-substance with which the self is generally identified.
Asamprajnata Samadhi supraconscious. The citta and the object of meditation are fused together. The consciousness of the object of meditation is transcended. All mental modifications are checked (niruddha), although latent impressions may continue.
Combined simultaneous practice of Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna & Samādhi is referred to as Samyama and is considered a tool of achieving various perfections, or Siddhis.